Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals 36

Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals: Book Four.
Or, "Autistic Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

Notes: Sorry this took so long. On top of my usual issues, I got a head cold that hung around for at least two weeks and decimated my energy to do things. I'm still not fully recovered, but I'm about 85 to 90 percent recovered.

I do not own this. J. K. Rowling does. This is just fan fiction. No money is being made. Not by me, anyway.

There may be a few bits and pieces lifted word-for-word from the canon material. I tried to do that as little as possible, though, but there's a lot more in this one than usual because it was unavoidable. Still, lots of details are changed, so don't skip by familiar parts or you might miss something.

Just as a reminder, so I don't have to shoehorn in descriptions in the text of the story as a reminder, but in this fanfic Harry and Hermione, apart from having Asperger's Syndrome, are both black as well.

'Italicized text between single quotes is almost always Parseltongue.'

Chapter 12: “Important Questions”

After a delay in publishing that he'd never really explained clearly, Xeno Lovegood finally printed his own article about the First Task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a full two and a half weeks after the First Task on the Saturday right after Harry's talk with Antigone, despite the fact he'd tracked down Harry at Hagrid's the very day of the Task. It might have annoyed Harry more if it weren't for the fact that Rita Skeeter had apparently decided not to write about the First Task for some reason. Instead, another Daily Prophet reporter whose name Harry couldn't remember, had done it instead. It hadn't made the front page for some reason, possibly because it was dull reading.

Xeno's, however, was quite different, and it was featured heavily on the Quibbler's cover. Harry first spotted it across the Great Hall in Luna's hands as she read it, though she had to pause every now and then to sell copies to interested parties.

Sitting down to breakfast, Hedwig flew over to him and dropped off a copy of the Quibbler. He handed her some sausage, which she scarfed up. Mouse-Stalker chose this time to poke his head out of Harry's left sleeve, startling Hedwig. She gave Harry a dirty look and flew off. Harry hadn't noticed this, being too intent on the Quibbler.

'Might you spare some food for a poor starving snake?' Mouse-Stalker asked Harry.

Harry chuckled, handing the snake a sausage.

'You're incorrigible,' he told the snake. He'd apparently said it in Parseltongue without meaning to, because several people nearby jumped in alarm and scooted farther away.

“Don't worry, he's not venomous. He won't bite,” Harry said. Nobody answered him.

Shrugging, he went back to reading.

The Tri-Wizard Tournament First Task
by Xenophilius Lovegood

The Tri-Wizard Tournament, brought back after centuries of being nearly forgotten, has started this year off to a bumpy start. Despite many steps taken to make the Tournament less dangerous and restrict competitors to of-age (17 or older) contestants only, some foul fiend has managed to subvert the Tournament to serve their own unknown agenda. For, despite there being only three schools in the tournament, young Mr. Harry Potter (14) was entered against his will under a fourth (unidentified) school, alongside the three willing participants of Viktor Krum (Durmstrang), Fleur Delacour (Beauxbatons), and Cedric Diggory (Hogwarts). Investigation into the plot is ongoing, we at the Quibbler will update you with more information on that matter as soon as we have it, but for now I leave you with the words of Alastor Moody, retired Auror and current Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher: “only a very powerful dark witch or wizard could have tricked the ancient and powerful Goblet of Fire into thinking there was an extra school involved in the Tournament.”

For now, we move on to the First Task. All four contestants did very well when faced against the til-then unknown threat of dragons. Mr. Viktor Krum of Durmstrang Institute hit his with a Conjunctivitis Curse, very narrowly avoiding being trampled to death to get the puzzle box the competitors were tasked with retrieving.

Ms. Fleur Delacour of Beauxbatons Academy attempted to use some sort of sleeping spell to put her dragon to sleep. This worked well, except for the fact that the dragon caught her robes on fire in its sleep, which she put out with some water from her wand before carrying on.

Mr. Cedric Diggory of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry used inanimate-to-animate transfiguration, turning a rock into a dog to distract the dragon. This seemed to work at first, but he too got burned when the dragon changed its mind. His burns were much more severe, but the school Healer mopped him up very well indeed, and last I saw him he appeared to be in fine health again.

The real surprise was young Mr. Harry Potter. There were fears he wouldn't manage it because of his age and some problems with socialization and anxiety, and so he was allowed to have his guardian, Mr. Sirius Orion Black, on hand to keep him mentally steady. Mr. Black was not allowed a wand, and in fact took to the field in his Animagus form of a large black dog, standing back and letting his godson do the Task without interference; he was merely there for moral support and mental health monitoring.

Mr. Potter's own go at the dragon was much more impressive than the previous three attempts. Not knowing what he would be facing or if he would even be able to handle it, Mr. Potter and his friends analyzed previous Tournaments and deduced a magical creature would be involved in the first task. Not knowing which creature in particular would be involved, they came up with a brilliant plan that would work against most creatures. Using his wand to summon a cauldron and ingredients, he began brewing a potion while setting up something else with runes carved into bits of wood from a summoned tree branch. The end result of his initial prep work was a giant glamour in the shape of a mirror and a stench potion that were used together to trick the dragon into thinking it had a rival, distracting the dragon until it discovered that the mirror was a trick. Mr. Potter, too, got burned, but not very much. He too is in perfect health again after the care of Madam Poppy Pomfrey, the on-site Healer at Hogwarts.

While the rules forbid contestants getting help from adults including teachers or Ministry officials, and while only contestants or other participants are allowed on the field during the events, nothing in the rule book forbids help from friends during the planning stages, so what Mr. Potter and friends did was completely within the letter of the rules. And whether or not it defies the spirit of the rules is of little consequence, for Mr. Potter did not wish to compete and is merely trying to survive the Tournament so that whoever put his name in the Goblet of Fire will fail at their nefarious goal, so I think it would be in poor taste to blame Mr. Potter and his friends for using every loophole they can to their advantage so he can survive the event.

I interviewed the contestants after the Tournament. Going in reverse order, I start with some highlights of the interview with Mr. Potter.

Quibbler: “The mirror I get, but tell me, why the stench potion?”

Mr. Potter: “Dragons can smell pretty well. If I'd just used the mirror, it would've known it was a trick. It's possible it knew Cedric's transfigured dog was fake for similar reasons. So I had to fool it, and I did that by blinding its sense of smell with the stench potion.”

~

Quibbler: “I noticed something else you summoned, aside from the things you needed for the potion and the mirror. What was that?”

Mr. Potter: “If you're talking about what I think you're talking about, it was a basilisk-skin shield that was made for me by Mr. Apollyon Dreyfuss of Dreyfuss Artificing.”

Quibbler: “That must have cost you a fortune!”

Mr. Potter: “It didn't cost me anything. I killed a basilisk in my second year – with a little help from my friends – and aside from somehow managing to survive despite all odds, I also got an incredibly valuable basilisk carcass out of the deal. It was stripped down and sold off, and part of it went to Mr. Dreyfuss, who made the shield from it for me, saying it was free as long as I told him who made it. It opens up mechanically and unfolds into a pretty decent shield. It can fold back up again, too.”

Quibbler: (For a picture of the basilisk-skin shield in use, turn to page 6.)

Quibbler: “How is it you got burned, with a shield like that?”

Mr. Potter: “I was grabbing the puzzle box with the arm it was on, so I wasn't able to bring it up in time to not get burned.”

From there, the article moved on to interview highlights from the other three competitors, which were all done in a similar fashion. Harry liked how Xeno had stayed on topic and not gone wandering off to other issues like personal stuff. He didn't even appear to have asked Fleur about her Veela heritage, or if he had, he hadn't included it in the article. The article finished off with a quick recap and an expression of hope that the next Task would be at least as interesting as the first, while wishing all competitors a safe trip through all three Tasks.

“Do you like it?” Luna asked him.

“I love it! It's amazing, Luna!”

“Thank you for saying so. I'll tell Daddy you liked it. He got a lot of praise for his coverage of the Quidditch World Cup, and the Quibbler even sold out twice from it. If this one does as well, Daddy is going to make a second magazine for articles like that, so the Quibbler can stay about important conspiracies and articles about hidden animals.”

“Oh? What's he gonna call it?”

“Last I heard, he was going to call it Fortnight Wizarding News. He's looking for other reporters to add to it if he goes that way, so he's not doing two magazines by himself.”

“Well I wish him luck, whatever he decides.”

She smiled. “Thank you. I think he will do it, if school sales are anything to go by. They're higher than they've ever been in three years.”

“Does he advertise his magazine anywhere?”

“Oh no, that would cost too much money.”

“Well I've got a lot of money sitting around in my vault. If he needs some money to really get his second magazine, or newspaper, or whatever he calls it off the ground, I'll provide start-up capital.”

“You don't need to do that, Harry.”

“I know. But I want to. The Quibbler itself aside, it would be good for the Daily Prophet to have some competition. And I've got more than enough money to spend on doing just that.”

“Oh. Well, you can always ask him if you want. And I can tell him you offered.”

“Good. I want him to succeed, I like him.”

As she smiled and was about to turn away back to breakfast, Harry came to a decision. The way her smile made him feel had done it.

“Luna?”

“Yes, Harry?”

“Could we talk privately somewhere?”

“Well I would like to eat breakfast first, Harry. But once I'm done with that, we can talk privately.”

Harry nodded, and they both sat down at the Griffindor table to eat breakfast. Harry was nervous the whole time, but still managed to eat. Luna continued selling Quibbler issues, this time at Griffindor. Harry tried to mitigate his nerves by reading the rest of the magazine's articles, but found he had to keep repeating the same paragraph over and over again, so he finally gave up. It was frankly something of a relief when she finally finished eating and they went to find an abandoned classroom to talk in.

Remembering that Rita Skeeter had somehow heard about his conversation with Draco that one time, Harry cast a bunch of privacy spells around the room to make sure they weren't overheard. Then he put his wand away and turned to face Luna. He stood there awkwardly, trying to pluck up the courage to speak, but it wasn't happening. He'd gone mute again, like he sometimes did. So he tried a different tactic: charades.

Pointing at Luna, then himself, he then clasped his hands together and danced in place as though with a girl, then outlined a Christmas tree shape in the air with his hands.

Chuckling at him, Luna said, “Are you asking me to the Yule Ball, Harry?”

Harry nodded.

“As a friend, or... or something else?” she asked.

“Um,” he finally managed to say. Then the floodgates burst forth, and he began to babble. “I uh... I don't know. I know I like being around you. A lot. I know I like talking with you, and holding your hand, and being close to you physically. I know I love it when you laugh. You being happy makes me very happy, too. And I know you make me happy, too.

“I don't have much experience with, you know, love. My aunt and uncle hate me. So does my cousin. I don't know what love is supposed to feel like. I don't know if I'm in love or what. But I like how I feel around you, Luna. So, uh... Antigone mentioned we – you and I, I mean – could go on a date without putting a label on it, and put that question off til later, but yeah, a date, not just as friends, even though we are friends--”

“Harry, stop babbling. I would love to be your date for the Yule Ball. If you don't know what your feelings concerning me are yet, that's fine. Maybe I can help you figure them out?”

Harry grinned. “I'd like that.”

“Good. So it's a date, then.”

“Great. Um... just one other thing.”

Very awkwardly, he described his need for a script to turn down others who asked him out, his desire to be polite, his dislike of hurting people's feelings, and asked her about her thoughts on if she wanted people to know yet or not that they were going to the ball together.

“Harry, it's just one dance. Just because two people go to the dance together doesn't mean they're dating. And anyway, I think a lot of people think we're dating already anyway, even if they don't want to believe it. We're also known to be friends, so it wouldn't surprise most people. Most importantly, though, when have I ever cared what other people thought of me?”

“I know, Luna. It's just... Voldemort's still after me, he's probably why I got in this bloody Tournament in the first place, and then I keep hearing about you getting bullied. Missing clothes and stuff, that sort of thing. I don't want to make your life any harder than it already is.”

“You're sweet, Harry, but what Voldemort or the bullies do isn't your problem or your decision. They're going to do what they want no matter what. If I was worried about Voldemort coming after me because of you, I wouldn't be your friend to start with. For me... I'd been so lonely for so long that having friends is worth the risk of being targeted by dark wizards. You're worth the risk, Harry.

“And anyway, when Voldemort comes back, we'll all be at risk. He's not a nice person, even to his followers. Everyone would suffer. And I'd rather suffer with friends at my side than suffer alone. And I hope that whatever our relationship status, that we always remain friends.”

Harry grinned sheepishly. “I hope so too, Luna.”

She hugged him for a few moments before they tore down the privacy spells and left. They were halfway to the library before Harry realized she'd said Voldemort's name twice without even flinching at all.

“What are you going to do today, Harry?”

“Hmm... well, I don't know what's going to be coming in the Second Task, so until I decode that stupid puzzle box, I'm going to practice defensive spells in the Room of Requirement. I should see if anyone else of our group of friends wants to join. I'll start by asking you.”

“I'd love to help, Harry, if I can. I could use some defensive magic practice, too. I've been going to Dueling Club, but I could still use more practice.”

Harry nodded. He looked in on the Dueling Club sometimes, not nearly as often as he should. But last year he'd skipped most of it from worry about Sirius before finding out he was innocent, then it slipped his mind the rest of the year. Now this year there was being entered in the Tri-wizard Tournament against his will, and most of the school's reactions to it, that had distracted him.

“I need to do that myself more often. When's it held?”

“It's every Sunday afternoon after lunch,” she said. “Some people don't get to go because of Quidditch practice conflicts, so you're far from the only person who keeps forgetting about it or not being able to go. It's not all that unusual for a club to get forgotten by those who aren't in it often; how often do you think about the Gobstones Club, for instance?”

“Still, I helped make sure it stayed in existence after Lockhart, and it would be useful, so I should go more often.”

“Would you like me to come get you at lunch on Sundays and we can go together?”

“Sounds good. Let's ask the others, too.”

“Well some of them already go. The Slytherin girls in our friends group go semi-regularly, as does Draco. And Neville has been going regularly this year and last year. But yes, we should remind Ron and Hermione. But today we're going to the Room of Requirement, yes?”

“Yes, we are.”

They walked for several minutes in silence before Harry spoke again.

“So you're still having problems with bullies? I noticed you're not wearing shoes again today.”

She sighed. “Yes. They always return my things eventually, but it is rather vexing.”

“Don't you have a lock on your trunk?”

“Yes. But it's a mundane lock and mundane trunk. Daddy doesn't make a lot of money from his magazine.”

“So an alohamora is all they need to break into it?”

She nodded. Then she abruptly changed the subject by discussing what spells they would be practicing. He knew he was going to have to do something about this. But what? He'd told Flitwick when she wouldn't, but there wasn't a lot he could do without hearing it from her, and even then there had to be evidence. But if anyone could sneak into her trunk at any time with a first-year spell...

Well, had it not been Antigone who said he got Luna thoughtful gifts? So that's what he would do. There was, after all, another Hogsmeade weekend coming up before the Yule Ball, and Sirius could always get him out of school on weekends to go to London if what he needed wasn't in Hogsmeade. He had some important shopping to do soon.

~

Saturday afternoon had been fun and productive. He and all his friends had gotten together and took turns pairing off, because there was seven of them and that was an odd number. Whoever wasn't one of the pairs at the time would play around with the puzzle box, going through combinations and crossing out the ones that went nowhere, circling bits that seemed to go somewhere before stopping.

Sunday afternoon was also fun. Luna had gotten Ron and Hermione back to the Dueling Club with her and Harry, meeting their Slytherin friends there, including Draco. A few other Slytherins were there as well. Some were unpleasant, but others were okay. Tracey Davis, Blaise Zabini, and Daphne Greengrass were distant but polite enough, being part of Draco's new group in Slytherin.

Harry learned some more things about these three Slytherins from Draco during the Dueling Club meeting's quiet moments. Zabini's family were considered dark gray but had remained neutral during the Voldemort war. Tracey Davis and Daphne Greengrass were members of strictly neutral families as well. It seemed this was largely because they had too much to lose to risk joining either side. But Tracey and Daphne had their own ideas and had been thrilled when Draco went to Harry's side. It seemed they were also trying to convince their dorm-mate Lily Moon to join them, and were making good headway on that front.

When Harry asked about why she used to hang out with Pansy Parkinson, it turned out to have been protective camouflage. It wasn't wise to defy the status quo of Slytherin at the time, but Draco's defection to Harry's side and openness about it made Daphne and Tracey feel brave enough to let their true allegiance show. Though it wasn't so much that they were for Harry as they were against Voldemort. And they still thought Dumbledore was an old fool who was trying to do too much at once.

There was more. Tracey and Daphne didn't hate Muggleborns, but they feared wizarding traditions dying out, and so they agreed with the Wizarding Studies class that Harry had gotten started by suggesting it to the teachers, even though the headmaster had been fighting opponents of the class ever since its inception. But another part of wizarding tradition was that Muggleborns should know their place as basically foreign immigrants to wizarding culture. Harry could see their point, but at the same time, it's not like Muggleborns had a choice in the matter; you were either born with magic or not, and going from thinking you were a mundane person to knowing you were a wizard or witch was not the same thing as immigrating. Unless... well, it had some similarities to children forced to immigrate by parents. But Daphne and Tracey told Harry he was being too literal.

They didn't have the chance to explain further before the Dueling Club was over with and everyone was heading back to their common rooms. But knowing he had been too literal made Harry switch gears to think more metaphorically. There was a hierarchy, Harry knew. Lords and Ladies of the various Noble Houses were at the top of the social hierarchy, with Common Houses beneath them, and un-Housed commoners beneath the Common Houses. Muggleborns were considered un-Housed once they left Hogwarts, which put them at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Which is why so many wizard-raised witches and wizards didn't like it when Muggleborns tried imposing their own cultural biases on wizarding culture. For instance, Hermione would likely have gone on a major offensive against the owning of House Elves if Harry hadn't been able to educate her on why House Elves were kept.

Still... the fact that Hogwarts had in its charter to take in Muggleborns... there was something about that which confused him. What was the reason? Wouldn't it make more sense for Muggleborns to go to the Winterbloom school or the other one that was for common witches and wizards? Sure, it could be a simple case that Hogwarts was the only magic school for a long time, since he had no idea when the other schools were founded, or if there'd been any other schools of magic other than Hogwarts. But he still felt like he was missing something. After all, it sounded like Hogwarts had always been intended to be a school for the nobility. So why Muggleborns, too?

Well that was a dead end of thought. He would need more information, so he gave up on it for now.

Instead, he decided to mirror-call Sirius.

“What can I do for you tonight, young man?” Sirius said in a half-joking tone of voice. Harry felt his eye twitch at this, and was momentarily confused.

“I wanted to tell you something, and then ask you something related to it.”

“Cast, pup.”

Harry paused at this, confused. “Huh?”

“Oh, I guess Muggles would say 'Shoot,' rather than 'cast.'”

“Oh. Right. Anyway, um... at the risk of you taking the mickey, I uh... you know there's a Yule Ball this year, right?”

“Yes. I plan on crashing the party, to be honest. Why? Wait, don't tell me; because you're a Champion, you need to have a date?”

“Yes.”

“And you want advice from an old lady's man on how to ask out a girl on a date, huh?”

Harry grinned. “Well sure, if you know anybody who fits that description, you'll give me their contact information, right?”

Sirius looked disappointed for a moment before realizing it was a joke and laughing. “Nice one! You got me good!”

“In seriousness, Sirius,” Harry said, ignoring Sirius's snorts of laughter, “I already asked Luna to be my date to the Yule Ball.”

“Ah, so you figured it out, did you?”

“No. Antigone told me. But uh... Luna and I aren't dating. We're not putting a label on it yet. I don't really know what I feel; love is still something of a foreign emotion to me, the Dursleys never had any for me. So until I figure things out, we're just... it's just one date. For now.”

Sirius looked sad and angry. “I'm sorry you had to be raised by those... people. If Lily came back to life and found out you'd been put with her sister and her sister's horrible husband, she'd hex Dumbledore into oblivion for doing it.”

Harry shrugged, not knowing what else to say.

“So if it wasn't advice you wanted, what did you want to ask?”

Grateful for this change of subject, Harry said, “Help with a Yule gift for Luna. She's still getting bullied. Mainly by her stuff going missing, though I suspect there's more she's not telling me. Anyway, I was thinking she needs a trunk only she can get into. Or rather, that can keep seventh year students out of it unless it's her.”

“Ah, trunk shopping. I can do that. Hmm... if we're going that route, it'll be expensive enough you might as well get her name engraved on the trunk, too. And let's see... there are trunks with extra compartments and entire rooms inside them. Maybe give her one with a small bedroom in it so she has somewhere to sleep if the bullying gets bad enough.”

“If you do that, better make sure nobody but Luna, her dad, and house elves can pick it up.”

“I think that's doable. I'll ask the shop owner, anyway. But I'm curious, has Luna told her head of House about the bullying?”

“I don't think so. I get the feeling I'm the only person she's told.”

“Maybe you should talk to Flitwick for her, then. If she won't.”

“There's only so much he can do unless she talks to him herself.”

“Well then we need to convince her she should. But in the meantime, the trunk is a good idea. Also... if you can get some names, I'll see what I can do as Lord Black to punish the evildoers.”

“I'll look into it, Sirius.”

“You're a good man, Harry Potter.”

Harry felt his eye twitch again. “Thanks, Sirius.”

“You're welcome. Say, back to the dance... do you need any dance lessons before the Yule Ball?”

“McGonagall is providing dance lessons, but thanks for the offer.”

“Ah yes, I'd forgotten McGonagall did that. We used to have dances every year at Hogwarts, until after a spring formal in my fourth year erupted into chaos as the school's Death Eater supporters and the kids of Light families got into a huge duel that wrecked the Great Hall before the teachers could intervene. My date ended up in the Hospital Wing. Her name was Marlene McKinnon.”

Sirius sighed sadly at this. His voice had cracked as he'd said her name, too. Harry watched his face in the mirror, and thought Sirius looked about to break down.

“Sorry pup, gotta go,” he said, his voice cracking again. “It's... Dobby's burning the biscuits.”

Before Harry could return the goodbye, Sirius had hung up. Harry stared sadly at the mirror, wishing he could comfort his godfather. The man needed to date again. After losing so many people in the war, and then over a decade in Azkaban steeped in bad thoughts and memories, he needed to move on. Harry hoped the man was seeing a Mind Healer, too.

~

Harry was glad he was going with Luna to the ball, since for several days after asking her, he'd gotten a dozen girls and several guys asking him out, and he'd been able to politely decline, explaining he had a date for the Yule Ball. Loads more people had asked him who he was going with, most of them people who didn't really like him. To them, he simply said, “You'll find out on the night of the Yule Ball.” The truth he only told his friends. Luna might not mind extra bullying, but Harry wanted to avoid as much unpleasantness as possible for as long as possible.

Ron wasn't having much luck finding a date. Harry tried convincing him to go stag, but Ron wouldn't hear of it, said it was pathetic. Harry pointed out Danzia was going by herself. Ron had scoffed.

“Sure it's okay for a girl to go by herself, but if a bloke does it, it's just pathetic.”

Harry knew Ron well enough to read between the lines: Ron felt pathetic enough already, he didn't need more humiliation.

As if confirming this, Ron's face grew sour and he said, “Though I suppose I'll look pathetic anyway, with the hideous moldy maroon rags she bought me for my dress robes. They look like a dress, and were probably the height of fashion in the 1890's.”

“There's a Hogsmeade weekend the weekend before the Yule Ball. I'll buy you some decent dress robes.”

Ron's face went scarlet in embarrassment. But before he could speak, Harry said, “I insist. It can be an early Yule present from me if you want. Plus, it'll be a gift to myself in a way. If you're miserable at this thing, that'll make me miserable. So I insist on buying you some decent dress robes. I'll even give you the gold ahead of time, you can look like you're paying for it yourself.”

Ron sighed. “Okay, fine I suppose. I just feel bad about... about...”

“Accepting charity?”

“Yeah, that.”

“It's not charity if we're friends, Ron. Listen, I know what it's like being poor. The Dursleys never gave me any pocket money, they made me wear Dudley's old hand-me-downs which fit me like a circus tent, and they fed me just enough to keep me from dying of starvation. Also, I had to do lawn work for neighbors – despite being desperately hungry – to have the money for pain relievers for my headaches when I was growing up. Finding out I was filthy rich in the wizarding world is still pretty surreal for me. The least I can do is help a friend in need. 'Be the change you wish to see in the world,' and all that.”

His first friend still looked uncomfortable. “Yeah,” Ron said, “I get that, I do. I just... I don't like feeling like a mooch. Accepting expensive gifts from you feels like being a mooch. I don't want you to think I'm only your friend because I get expensive stuff from you.”

“I don't think that at all, Ron. Anyway, I can't let my best friend suffer. I couldn't bear to watch you suffer, not if I can do something to alleviate it.”

“You're a good man, Harry. Thanks.”

Harry's eye twitched again, but he smiled. “You're welcome.”

“Hey, if you're feeling like helping me enjoy this Yule Ball thing... any chance you could help me get a date for the Yule Ball? I don't know who to ask, and I'd rather not ask someone and get shot down. Also, I don't want to take someone... well... I'm gonna sound shallow for this, but I don't want an ugly date. For kinda the same reason I don't want to wear those ugly robes.”

“What about Hermione?”

“What? Oh... hmm... good idea. Yeah, I'll ask her. Thanks, Harry!”

“You're welcome.”

Along with helping Ron, something else making Harry happy was that there was no article about Hagrid in the Daily Prophet, which he supposed would've been hard to do with Hagrid wisely taking their advice not to talk with Skeeter. Still, he was worried she'd dig up something on Hagrid just to spite them both. Skeeter didn't seem to care what she said, as long as it sold papers.

On the other hand, Ms. Pennyroyal stopped by to see him one day after classes were over to inform him that she couldn't find any way out of the contract for him. He wasn't disabled enough to be declared legally unfit for the Tournament, which would void the contract if it happened, and the other Champions would have to resubmit their names into the Goblet of Fire. This had been put in place mainly in case someone submitted the name of a child too young to even wield a wand. But Harry was neither 'invalid' enough to get out of the Tournament nor was he too young to be allowed to compete. So that was a bust.

Ms. Pennyroyal did, however, find out he wasn't contractually obligated to go to the Yule Ball, as that was a tradition but not part of the contest. The fact he was going anyway rendered that a moot point, though. Also, she told him what the other two tasks were in general terms, according to the contract; the Second Task was some sort of race, and the Third Task was a maze of some sort, where the end of the maze was the Tri-Wizard Cup.

Since Draco was his PR manager, Draco was there too. After Ms. Pennyroyal stopped talking about the contract, Draco pointed out that if Harry wanted to make a point about how he hadn't entered willingly, that he should ask the judges to award him no more than one point each, that way it would be basically impossible for him to win.

“But Ms. Pennyroyal said the Second Task is some kind of race, though,” Harry said. “So points wouldn't really matter in that case, would they?”

“A fair point,” Draco said. “But consider: the magical contract says you have to compete. Does it say anything against throwing the competition? You know, being deliberately slow in the race?”

They turned to Ms. Pennyroyal. She turned some of the pages of the contract and skimmed through them. After several tense minutes of reading, she turned back to them.

“Okay, so the contract does forbid throwing the competition, unfortunately. But their definition of 'throwing the competition' doesn't include asking the judges to award them low points on purpose. It just means you have to try your hardest to win each Task. There's no punishment for being injured or held up by a creature or obstacle, unless you do it on purpose. It's intent-based.”

“Intent based? So if I intend to do my best, that's good enough?”

She narrowed her eyes and smirked at him. “Why do I see a Slytherin tactic in your eyes, young man?”

Ignoring his eye twitching again, Harry said, “I was wondering if intending to do my best and just having a bad day that makes me perform poorly would count against me with the Goblet? For instance... like, if there was a creature to get past to get the Tri-Wiz Cup, and I just... couldn't get past it?”

“Do you mean to say that you could get past it if you racked your brains, but you just gave up?”

“Yes. Mostly.”

“Sorry, but that's still intending to fail. The problem with trying to bypass an intent-based spell by deliberately warping your own intent is that if the spell caster is even remotely competent, it's impossible. Trying to intend to win while also intending to fail is still intent to fail. You do your best, no attempts at trickery, or you lose your magic, period, according to this contract. And it looks like the Goblet is clever enough to spot such deceptions, and has the power to do as is warned. Any attempt to harm the Goblet will count against you, too. Of course, the Goblet can't punish you for merely wanting to harm it, or even going so far as researching how to harm it, but the moment you raise your wand or your hand to it with the intention of harming it, it knows, and it strikes.”

“This is absurd! I didn't put my name in!”

“Yes, and normally that would make a difference, according to everything I've found out. If someone put your name in under Hogwarts without your consent, merely by putting your name in the Goblet and nothing else, then the Goblet would ignore your name, because consent does matter with it. But someone used a ridiculously powerful Confundus charm on it, according to Dumbledore's examination of the Goblet, as Moody surmised. So not only was it tricked into thinking there was a fourth school, it was also tricked into thinking you submitted your name intentionally.

“I did ask Dumbledore if he could use an equally strong Confundus on it to trick it into knowing the truth and therefore dropping you from its obligation to compete, but according to Dumbledore, a Confundus strong enough to fool something as old as the Goblet of Fire requires a boost from a Dark Magic ritual bad enough that he said nobody sane should risk using it. He wouldn't tell me more than that, not even the name of the ritual. But he did suggest that a decade in Azkaban would be preferable to the price such a ritual would exact from anyone foolish enough to use it.”

“So Dumbledore doesn't have the power to do it?”

“Dumbledore said that not even You-Know-Who at his height of power would have had the power to do it either, without the aforementioned Dark ritual. The Goblet is an extremely old and powerful artifact.”

“Damn. Oh well. Guess there really is no way out. I wouldn't want anyone to pay a price like that for my sake.”

“Good. Anyway, I like Mr. Malfoy's suggestion to ask the judges to award you minimal points. It sends a nice strong message, and isn't forbidden by the contract, as it doesn't really impact the chances of winning much. The points don't really matter, ultimately. They're merely used to determine what order the contestants enter the maze in the Third Task. So from a competition standpoint, you lose nothing of significance and gain the PR advantage. No matter how much you protest you didn't put your name in, and no matter how dangerous the Tasks are, there's always going to be those who say you entered willingly. Even with this PR stunt, there will be those people. But with it, those people will be few and far between.”

“Then that's what I'm going to do,” Harry said.

“Good,” she said, writing something on a blank piece of parchment as she spoke. “And also, a suggestion of my own: even though you've decided to go to the Yule Ball with Ms. Lovegood anyway, you could always send another PR message at the Yule Ball by refusing to start the dancing with the other contestants, and even refusing to sit with the other contestants for the dinner. And if anyone gives you any grief about it, like the teachers, remind them you were entered against your will, and hand them this.”

She handed him the parchment she'd been writing on. It was an official letter from her, with her wax seal on it, which explained what the contract said he was and wasn't obligated to do for the Tournament, with the things he was NOT required to do in nice big, bold letters. And an invitation to talk with her if they had any questions.

“Thank you, Ms. Pennyroyal.”

“It's what I'm being paid for, Mr. Potter. But you're welcome all the same.”

Reading the parchment, he frowned at some of the wording. “Hey wait, does this right here mean what I think it means?”

“What do you think it means, Mr. Potter?”

“I think it means you're going to be present at the Yule Ball.”

“Then it does indeed mean what you think it means. I wanted an excuse to drop in on the event anyway, and this is as good an excuse as any. Better, even.”

“Cool. Well I'll see you there, then.”

“Excellent,” she said, standing up and putting her papers away in her briefcase. “Is there anything else before I go, Mr. Potter?”

He looked to Draco. Draco shrugged.

“Not that I can think of, Ms. Pennyroyal. If I think of anything, I'll owl you.”

“Don't put anything sensitive in an owl. If in doubt, Floo call me. Your head of House is legally obligated to let you use her Floo if it's for a legal matter.”

“I'll do that, then. Thanks again, Ms. Pennyroyal.”

“You're welcome, Mr. Potter.”

She smiled, shook his hand, and left the room – an unused classroom they'd chosen for this meeting.

“So, now she's gone, who are you taking to the Yule Ball, Draco?”

“I'm not sure. Pansy Parkinson asked me, she's still interested in me for some reason, but I turned her down. I never really liked her much. I just hung out with her because it was expected of me.”

“Anyone you fancy?”

Draco's face turned pink, and he turned his eyes away from Harry's face. “Perhaps. But I'm not sure how to ask her. Also not sure she'd accept.”

“Is it Daphne or Tracey?”

“Er... no. Though one of them might make a nice backup.”

Harry blinked, trying to think who Draco could be meaning.

“It's not Danzia or one of the other Slytherin girls in our friend group, is it?”

Draco made a choking noise. “No, none of them. I doubt any of them would be interested, anyway. I know Antigone and Angela are only into girls, and I'm not 100 percent sure about Danzia's interests.”

“So then... oh. Hermione?”

Draco went even pinker than before, and silently nodded.

“Oh. Oh shit. You'd better ask soon, then. I uh... didn't know of your interest in her, and sort of suggested Ron ask her.”

Draco winced. “Damn! Blast and damn! Do you know where she is right now?”

“Um... probably either in the library, in our common room, or on her way between the two.”

“Thanks sorry gotta run bye!” Draco said, grabbing his bag and running off, ignoring several loose parchments spilling out of it. Harry Summoned them with his wand and put them in his own bag to return to the blond boy later.

Later, Harry tried to call Sirius on the mirror to tell Sirius all this. He didn't get an answer for several hours, making him very worried until Sirius finally answered.

“Shorry for the wait, pup,” he said, his speech slurred. “I wash at a rock concert, I didn't think it worf the rishk to talk on the mirror in front of a bunch of Mugglesh. Plush, the noishe would've been too much for it to be worth the time anyway. What's up?”

“You were at a rock concert?”

“Yeah. I had to get outta the houshe and go shomewhere other than work, for my mendal... menthal... for my shanity. So I went to a conshert. Again, what'sh up?”

Harry smiled at the knowledge Sirius was doing something social again, and told Sirius everything he, Ms. Pennyroyal, and Draco had discussed.

“Well that shucks you can't get outta it, but yeah, I agree with thoshe ideash for getting people to realishe you didn't enter willingly. Refushing pointsh for the tashksh would shend that meshage nishely.”

A muffled voice in the background of Sirius's side suddenly spoke. “You almotht done in there, Siriuth? I gotta pith like a rayshhorth!”

“Jusht a few minutesh,” Sirius called back.

Harry grinned at the mirror as Sirius turned back. “That was a girl's voice, Padfoot! You brought a girl home with you!”

“Er, not eggsagt... not ezag... um... not quite. I'm at her playsh, in fact. She'sh a Muggle, sho I couldn' bloody well take her to my playsh. Had to claim I don' live in town, wizitch... wish ish a lie ash we're in London ri' now. Anyway, nuff bout me.”

“Padfoot, you're at a girl's house?” Harry said teasingly.

“Yeah yeah, laugh it up, Chucklesh. I'll get ya back later. But I should go, she drank enough vodka earlier to drown a shmall village, and she's shtill vertical. I jusht wanted to make sure you were okay, and let you know I wash okay too. Drunker than I been shinsh before Ashbakan, but yeah.” Sirius giggled just then.

“Right. Well you'd better call when you're sober tomorrow night and tell me all about the girl whose house you're in. If you can still remember it, that is.”

“I'll conshider it, pup. G'night.”

“Goodnight, Sirius.”

Sirius gave Harry a drunken thumbs-up and closed the mirror, hanging up. Harry smiled at the disconnected mirror and chuckled to himself at his godfather's antics before getting ready for bed.

Endnote: Bit short I know, but since I'd been sick for half a month, I figure it's better than nothing.

Harry is a bit clueless about positive emotions like love here and in canon, likely because, well, he never had any love directed at him. It's honestly unrealistic that Harry turned out as good in canon as he did, rather than becoming a new dark lord. The only way that could happen in reality is if Harry had one good, loving adult in his life. And somehow I doubt Mrs. Figg would qualify for that; he didn't seem to like being around her. Only other thing I can think of is “because magic.” Like... because of magic, his mother's love was magically pushed into his mind and soul by her sacrifice.

Oh yeah and I only noticed while writing this chapter that Skeeter never covered the First Task in canon, or if she did it wasn't mentioned for some reason. It's odd. But seeing as I nearly forgot to have Xeno do the same thing, maybe Rowling just forgot?

Speaking of forgetting: yeah, I keep forgetting about Dueling Club being a thing in this AU. I don't do my best work on anything remotely resembling a deadline, I prefer to make up for gaps in my memory by taking my time with things and adding/subtracting stuff scores of times before being satisfied with a chapter, but I don't do that with fan fiction nearly as much; I tend to breeze through these fanfics by comparison to my usual writing habits because the longer it takes me to write and publish a chapter, the more antsy I get. Writing original stuff intended for eventual legit publication, where I can keep going back to previous chapters and adding or subtracting things, is my preference. There are SO many changes I would make to previous chapters of this story if it wasn't so much of an excess of hassle for me to do.

Oh and if you noticed certain clues: no, I'm not making Harry trans in this one. Not exactly. What I have planned won't change anything about Harry's gender presentation. If you want a trans Harry, go read my other fanfic “The Many Faces of Har—er, Adira Potter.”



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